London: full of life, money and opportunities. Yes, but only for some of us.


Glancing through the web I found a quote from an Italian living in London that said:

‘In England if you are worth something, automatically you will find a job, why is it not the same in Italy?’

I do not agree with what he says, or better, I agree to a certain extent only because the real question one should ask is: what is the price you need to pay to hit the big time outside your homeland?

It is under everyone’s eyes, a continuously increasing phenomenon, usually classified as ‘brain drain’. Italians seem to be paralysed under these currents of young people who decide to leave their homeland for the unknown. But the reasons for leaving are rarely properly questioned! We never ask ourselves if it is right to expatriate, or if there are actually more chances to hit the big time beyond the confines of our own country.

I too, like many other compatriots, decided to leave Italy and continue my university studies in London. Initially, this city attracted me for the dynamism of a system completely different from the Italian one, and for the better opportunities. I left with a million ideas of how my life could be and with great expectations. Some of them became true while others, I now realise, were probably too big to be fulfilled.

Over the years, I have witnessed an incredible flow of Italians moving to London, as well as to other cities in Europe. But their stories were not full of courage or hope but rather revealed a disorganised approach that ignored the reality of what they were about to face. A cruel reality in which competition prevails in every single aspect of daily life.

Competition is very high. Undergraduates, postgraduates, as well as those who are already well-connected in the workplace; everyone is looking for the same thing during hard times. Professionals who have been working for years are becoming unemployed and unable to find new work, so accept unpaid jobs in order to avoid blanks in their CVs. You can find yourself serving coffees, doing commissions and being exploited without any reward. All of this in the name of competition. You could say that even an  intern has to ‘pay’ to work, as public transport as well as life in general are very costly.

Moreover, the requests of the agencies offering work — paid or unpaid — are absurd: they expect academic excellence and a personal profile probably better suited for a future president of the United States.

Contrary to what many think, coming to live in London does not rhyme with having an amazing life. Living next to the Queen means being constantly without money, having to fight with landlords to fix your boiler and consequently living without heating for two weeks. It means working with no recognition and with a higher level of competition than in Italy — it’s being exploited for a reference, regardless of good academic results.

The life of an emigrant is harsh, but it rewards with experience and helps you grow as an individual. However, all this frequently comes at a cost to family, affections and relationships, forced to be put on hold as you hope that the choice taken to leave will bring you what your homeland couldn’t.

It is too easy to think: ‘England is different from Italy, if you are good you get employed’. Reality is much harder and rather bitter. There are not just the success stories: for every individual who hits the big time, thousands fly back home.

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